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March 20th, 2014

How to remove nuisance browser toolbars?

cleanup infographicQuestion of the week: “How do I get this stupid Sweetpacks off my computer?! It’s driving me crazy!”

This question didn’t come from an AVAST email, a support ticket, or even our Facebook page. It came directly from my mother as we were talking on the phone one day. Believe me, when you work for a security software company, you better have an answer for your mother! Thankfully, I do.

It’s avast! Browser Cleanup.

Most toolbars and smiley things are unnecessary and may even cause slowdowns or unexpected crashes. Technically, toolbars are not a threat so most antivirus products won’t flag them as potentially malicious, but since they are annoying and unwanted, you can use avast! Browser Cleanup to activate/deactivate installed toolbars.

Open the avast! Antivirus dashboard, and click on the tools icon (it looks like a wrench and screwdriver). Open Browser Cleanup and click start. It will scan for toolbars with a bad reputation and give you the option to remove them.

avast! Browser Cleanup  removes unwanted toolbars from Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox ,and Internet Explorer. It is integrated in all avast! antivirus security products, and is also available as a stand-alone product on various download portals for use by friends without avast! installed.

Heavy duty browser cleaning

Since the avast! Browser Cleanup tool was launched in February 2013, it has removed 125 million unwanted toolbars from AVAST users’ computers. That’s more than 10 million toolbars zapped each month.

Toolbars typically inhabit the horizontal space below your browser and include buttons, icons, and menus that give you an easy way to select functions on the desktop, in applications or the browser. In some cases, they can be quite useful, but avast! users have rated only 4.2% of toolbars as “good” or “useful.”

avast! Browser Cleanup has identified 10 million different toolbars in the database, and avast! users have rated most of those as “bad.” The Sweetpacks toolbar, and millions like it, received that rating because they change your home page and search engine into their own. Toolbars often install a hidden background program for “updates,” but it really prevents you from resetting your homepage and search engine back to the ones of your choice. Worse yet, this service makes sure that the toolbar gets reinstalled if you try to remove it.

Dirty tricks

Our infographic shows you which toolbars avast! users have rated the top “bad” ones and the  companies that supply them. You may notice that some vendors show up more than once with a different product. Renaming products is a shady practice used to trick people.

“Roughly 7 million out of the 10.2 million toolbars in our database are polymorphic – which means they have a varying and almost unreadable name,” said Thomas Salomon, head of AVAST Software ‘s German Software Development team. “Companies use this naming strategy to confuse people, and make it difficult to remove the annoying toolbars.”

You can see some of the variants in a previous blog post.

Another dirty trick vendors use is to name a toolbar after a well-known and respected product – kind of a smoke-and-mirrors approach.

“For a couple of months now, the vendors of annoying toolbars have been using another dirty trick: They name their own bad add-ons with the good name of well-rated and useful add-ons and thus use this good reputation to ‘hide’ their own crap,” explains Salomon.

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